Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tour de Fleece - The Finish Line - and why I like the Tour de France so much

The Tour de Fleece, three weeks of spinning yarn while the mighty cyclists ride around europe, arriving exhausted but elated in Paris.  200 riders set out from the starting line on the last day of June this year, however, only 170 riders remain to race from Versailles to the Champs-Elysees.  I'm cheering for a stage win from Cavendish, he's had such a rough year and this last stage is made for him.

But you know what, it could be anyone limping across the finish line at the end of the day, or zooming by in a photo finish, whatever the case may be.

That is what I love about the sport of cycling, especially these long distance races - anything can happen.

The cyclist isn't just racing against his fellow competitors, he's racing against the tour, his bike, the crowds, the weather, the roads, and France itself.  The Tour de France is one of the greatest equalizing force I've seen.  It doesn't matter how good the rider is, how hard he tries, how amazing his team mates, or his team support - all it takes is one little thing, and the best rider can loose the race.  A moment of inattention, being caught up in a crash, a dog or child running out onto the road in front of them, a poorly timed train crossing, or a mechanical failure when there is no support car around to assist... a slipped gear at the most critical moment might coast the rider 20 seconds time, but it's enough to snatch the yellow right off his back.

So, yes, there's been a lot of talk about drugs and stuff like that this last year, but to me, it isn't such a big deal.  Okay.  I do not like them taking drugs, it's disappointing - once they are found to take drugs, there is no way I would cheer for them again, even if they aren't taking it anymore.  But even those who do cheat, still have to compete with all these other equalizing factors in the race, and any advantage they have from the illicit substances, can so easily be lost in a moment of inattention.

The goals I set myself for the Tour de Fleece didn't exactly happen.  But I did spin almost every day, and I got quite a bit accomplished.

I washed lambs wool and carded alpaca

however, when the weather warmed, I decided to work on my medieval spindles

and eventually it became just too warm to work with either, so I switched to a hand dyed (by Ryan of Knotty by Nature) silk and bamboo fibre blend.

I'm happy with what I accomplished, not the best I've done, but I finished, and that make me happy.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage fourteen

I think it's stage 14, I've lost count.

A little more spun over the last couple of days.  I just love this fibre.

I've been spinning from the fold for this yarn.  I take a small length of fibre, fold it over one finger, then do a short draw with the other hand.  This is a really easy method for short (less than 5 inches long) staple silk.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage twelve

Next year I will spin something thicker.  Maybe a nice sock weight single from alpaca, wool, silk blend?  All white, ready for dyeing.  That would be nice.  But I would be happy with anything so long as it is thicker.

Have a look at this.

It may not look it in the photo, but it's cobweb.  Ply two of them together and you have sewing thread.  In other words, it is thin yarn.  It is also about half an hour of spinning.  I'm a quick enough spinner, and there is significant yardage on that bobbin, but it's just doesn't make for impressive photography.  Especially when we are taking daily updates.

So next year, thicker yarn is in order.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage eleven

You know what, I haven't done a lick of spinning today.  Not one drop spindle, not a handful of fibre, nothing.  I hope to remedy that later tonight, but for now, here's a photo of some tablet weaving I've been playing with.

Sorry, that's not handspun either.  But it's looking rather fine if I may say so myself.

I'm really surprised how much I like tablet weaving.  It's very portable and very satisfying.  I made my tablets from an old deck of playing cards.  The shuttle I made by cutting out some cards and gluing them together.  Of course, I couldn't find my glue, if I ever had any, so I boiled up some flour, sugar and water and made a very efficient glue.

Now to finally watch Sky Fall (the latest james bond film).  It's nice of the library to replace the video rental stores, but the wait list... oof. *slowly shakes head in dismay*

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage ten

Today I decided it was time to ply the silk/bamboo yarn.  I've only spun about a quarter of my fibre but have near enough 400 yards.  

This one is suppose to be 90 degrees counter clockwise
however, no matter which editing software I use, blogger still thinks it should be this way up.
ah well, computers are smarter than people these days, so I guess it knows best.

It's coming along very nice, until my drive band broke.  I'm having trouble with the whorls on the lace flyer, they are just too slippery and to get them to grab hold of the world I need to have the band really, really tight.  That's not good for the wheel and apparently it's not good for the drive band either. 

Tomorrow I will try a thicker drive band and perhaps try roughing up the inside of the whorls.  Maybe then I can get some decent traction going.

While plying I watched Hamlet, the one with David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.  I picked it up at the library and it's quite good.  I had forgotten just how long the play is, so I have the best part to watch some time tomorrow.  

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage nine

I had one of those days.  I set out early with the simplest of goals: tidy the house so that it's ready for spinning group, and make a calendula dye bath... maybe even mordant some fabric and fibre.

Well, one thing and another, and another, and they just didn't quit.  Apparently today was the day that everyone decided to visit.  Which I like, and Sundays are a good day for it.  One person arrived with some fresh caught fish, so I spent two hours learning how to gut and cut them.  But happy for fresh fish for dinner - nothing quite so nice as that.

I got a little bit of spinning in and harvested the calendula, but that's about it.  I put the calendula to dry, there will be plenty more by monday.  And that's about it.

The calendula are volunteers in the garden this year and they took over.  I'm certain I can find a use for them.

Tomorrow is a rest day for the Tour and for me too.

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage eight

Started the second bobbin of the silk/bamboo blend.  Now that I'm getting the hang of the lace flyer, it is spinning much easier.  This second bobbin is going to be much more consistent than the first, but it will even out with the plying.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage seven

Have I been at this a whole week already?  Time is going so quickly and I have so much to do.  Sometimes I feel like things just tumble along and hope they don't fall.

Still slowly working on lace, but also working on reproductions of medieval spindles.

I picked up some soap stone from a yard sale last weekend.  After trying different tools and methods, we found that the tile saw is the easiest tool to rough out the shape and these old files I pick up at yard sales are great at shaping the stone.  You can also use the pointy bit that use to go in the handle to work the stone as well as the file part.

When the whorls are done, they slip onto the spindles and stay there by magic of friction.  Because this kind of spindle is usually used for in-hand or semi-supported spinning, the balance isn't as critical as with a drop spindle.

I suspect that I'm making these too large and too heavy, so I'll give a try at making smaller ones later on.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage six

Here's something different, and yes, it is about spinning.

Took a break today and harvested nettles.  That's Stinging Nettles to you.  

They are about 4 to 5 feet tall and just going into flower.  I figure they must be ready by now.  

I picked them, got stung by them, stripped the leaves off them, and put half of them on part of the lawn that gets the most dew, and the other half to dry to be retted next spring.

I'm assuming that they are something like flax in that they get broken, scratched, and hackled.  But I can't tell from reading if they get dried before retting or retted fresh.

Trying to find some medieval sources on how nettles use to be processed.  So far all I've come across is that they are finer than hemp and softer than flax.  

So if anyone knows how to transform this into something I can dress a distaff with and spin, please let me know.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - stage five

I think Ashford had a really good idea when they came up with interchangeable flyer assemblies and motherofalls.  The arms with the hooks that spin around the bobbins are called the flyer, and bobbin and flyer together are called flyer assembly.  The two posts that hold up the flyer assembly are called the maidens.  Altogether, maidens, flyer, bobbin and the platform they rest on are called the motherofall.

With some wheels (and it's not just Asford that do this) you can buy kits with interchangeable flyer assemblies and motherofalls.  There are some for lace, some for jumbo fat yarn and some flyer assemblies that specialize in novelty yarn.

Silk and bamboo hand dyed laceweight 

This is the lace flyer assembly kit plus maidens that fits on my Ashford Traditional wheel.  It transforms what is a good all purpose spinning wheel into something more suited for cobweb and laceweight.  It has a smaller orifice (hole for yarn) and smaller whorls (place where drive band goes) for faster spinning.  It also has twice the number of hooks for more even distribution of yarn on the bobbin.

On the whole I think they do a decent job.  It's a darn site more affordable than buying a new wheel and it really broadens the range of what you can accomplish on the Traditional.  It's easy enough to swap back and forth, just requires a screwdriver and a few minutes.  However, it's not as nice as spinning on a wheel build specifically for fine yarns like my antique, double drive Canadian Production Wheel.

The Ashford lace flyer assembly takes more advance skill to use than a casual spinner might have.  You have to make minute adjustments to the bobbin tension band and drive band tension, as it is very sensitive to atmospherics and even the amount of yarn on the bobbin.  The yarn needs to be wound onto the bobbin as evenly as possible otherwise the system develops a wobble.  I also found that the whorl ridges in the flyer were too smooth and the drive band slips when it has no reason to.

Even with it's little foibles, I like it.  The only real problem I have is that spinning yarn this fine isn't very dramatic for picture taking.  But believe me, there is yarn here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - Stage four

When I found my spare Ashford bobbins, I also discovered a project that I began a few years ago but never got very far on.

This is a silk, bamboo blend dyed by my friend Ryan of Knotty By Nature.  Behind it you can see a Charkha wheel and an Ashford lace flyer assembly.  The project was to make a significant amount of fine woven cloth with the silk spun two ply for the warp and white cotton singles for the weft.  I cannot remember why I wanted to do it, except that it would be fun.

Given how much trouble I've been having with the heat and working with warm alpaca in the heat, I've decided to change my goals for the Tour de Fleece.  The new goals are to continue washing and carding fibre, and to spin the silk or cotton (depending on my mood) everyday.

The lovely alpaca will just have to wait for winter.

Monday, July 01, 2013

Tour de Fleece 2013 - Stage 3

Today's focus was on carding alpaca.  Managed to get a good chunk accomplished today which makes me happy that something is going right.

The fibre from Tyrone is absolutely dreamy.  He's a rescue boy who spent several years living wild.  They don't know where he came from, but I'm glad he could come live with us.   The fibre has a deep rich colour which I have trouble showing in my photographs, with a touch of grey from time to time.

This is the first time he's been shorn in several years so the fibre staple is long and lovely.  However, there is evidence that he went through times of poor nutrition while he was living wild.  Some of the longer fibres have week spots in them that break easily, a sign that the animal was under stress (emotionally or dietary) at some time.

I think that next year's fibre will be even better now that he has a steady diet and a set routine.

We didn't grade the fibre at sheering time, so I'm sorting through it by feel.  I'm making two piles, fine and coarse.

I don't know how well you can see it, but the pile on the left is coarse.  Can you tell that it has more shine?  By coarse, I mean it would make a nice sweater or blanket.  The fine stuff is next-to-the-skin soft.

I'm going to put the coarse stuff to one side for now, I'm undecided about what I want to do with it, perhaps find a wool to blend it with and make socks.

The fine fibre is what I'm working with.  It makes up about 40% of the total fleece.

First I spread apart the fibre with my fingers, gently removing any tangles or vegetable matter that I come across.

The more I can spread apart the fibres before carding it, the easier time my carder will have organizing the fibres.  It puts less strain on the machine and gives a better finished result.  This is how thin I like to have it as it enters the carder.

This fibre is lovely and only needs two passes through the drumcarder.  What I'm aiming for is a consistent yarn, so I put a large amount of fibre through the carder so that I have almost a dozen batts, then I take a thin strip from each bat and put them through the carder again to blend any variation I might have got with the first selection.

I other news, I found my bobbin stash in the basement.  It was with a bunch of other spinning stuff.  Given how hot the days have been this week... I'm wondering how much more alpaca I can tolerate.  Alpaca is one of the warmest fibres to work with, which makes it unpleasant in a heatwave like this.  I'll see how today goes and then reevaluate my goals tomorrow.